Friday, October 9, 2009

Great Heart

From the Red River Bookshelf
Great Heart by James West Davidson and John Rugge

I finally picked up Great Heart again. The book is divided into two parts, and I read the first half in about four days early in the summer. Life caught up with me, and the second half sat unread for about three months. Both halves proved to be quick reads, though, and the whole book skipped by too quickly.

Great Heart is a retelling of the Hubbard Expeditions (Leonidas Hubbard’s, Mina Hubbard’s, and Dillon Wallace’s) across Labrador at the turn of the twentieth century. The authors used the diaries of the expeditioners themselves, along with news clippings, family interviews, and other historic data, to recreate the expeditions as closely as they could.

The first half of Great Heart focuses on Leonidas Hubbard’s fateful 1903 journey, in which he, Dillon Wallace, and George Elson attempt to cross interior Labrador in search of the Naskapi Indians. The party is ill-prepared for the journey; overschooled without the aid of practical application; and a little naïve and optimistic. I have to admit that the words, “Seriously?” and “Why?” escaped my lips more than once, and I shook my head at the book a few times too. When Hubbard’s expedition reached its inevitable conclusion in which Leonidas didn’t return home, I was torn between a quiet sadness and exasperation of the "oh-it-served-you-right" variety.

The second half of Great Heart follows the “race" between Mina Hubbard and Dillon Wallace as each attempts to recreate and complete Leonidas’s original expedition. The authors take us on two very different routes through Labrador: one over land, and one following the rivers. There isn’t much question which expedition the authors were cheering for; the imagery and intonation surrounding each expedition is markedly different. It’s such an entertaining story, though, that those pushes from the author shouldn’t detract most readers.

The epilogue is nearly as enthralling as the book itself. The authors tell us what happened to the expeditioners after the story ends and how their lives played out. They recreate parts of the Hubbard expeditions themselves and do a darn good job answering my question of “why” from above. By the end of the epilogue, I wasn’t shaking my head at the book anymore; in fact, I wanted to grab my own canoe and pole and take on the wilds of Labrador myself. Why not? I’m a little naïve myself, and I’ve got optimism in spades. (What could go wrong?)

After the expeditions, Dillon Wallace wrote two books related to this topic: The Lure of the Labrador Wild: The Story of the Exploring Expedition Conducted by Leonidas Hubbard, Jr. and The Long Labrador Trail. Mina Hubbard wrote A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador: An Account of the Exploration of the Nascaupee and George Rivers and co-authored The Woman Who Mapped Labrador: The Life and Expedition Diary of Mina Hubbard. I’ll be looking to pick these up in the future- a quick check on Amazon shows no fewer than twelve versions of A Woman’s Way Through Labrador currently available.
(Other books have been written on these expeditions and people. I’m not going to try and recreate the list here.)

Photos from the expeditions and other information can be found at:

Happy reading!

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